There’s been no shortage of great stories this season, but one of the most surprising things is the cast of rookies who have quickly made names for themselves in the league.
The thing with rookies is they’re one of the most difficult groups of players to accurately forecast. With little known about how well adjusted they’ll be to the NHL, they can either boom or bust, and in some cases an injury or unfavorable situation can send the early Calder Trophy favorite to the bottom of the ballot.
Take Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin, for instance, who some people thought would run away with the award but doesn’t even appear on our list. Or John Gibson, the THN consensus pick for the Calder, who had a shot at leading the Ducks this season before injury derailed his season.
These are the top 10 Calder Candidates at this point in the season:
10. John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars
Klingberg may have only played 15 games as of Monday, but he cracks this list because he’s already a top-four defender on a Dallas team that desperately needed one to step up. He’s facing tough minutes, big minutes, and his three goals and nine points are admirable from the blueline.
Paired primarily with Alex Goligoski, Klingberg, 22, looks like he will be a mainstay in the Stars defensive corps for years to come. He was a fifth-round pick of the Stars in 2010, selected 131st overall, and it appears spending last season playing against grown men in the SHL has done wonders for his game.
9. Mike Hoffman, LW, Ottawa Senators
In just 51 AHL games last season, Hoffman had 30 goals and 67 points. No wonder the Senators thought he was ready to make a full-time jump to the NHL.
A fifth-round pick of the Senators in 2009, Hoffman, 25, has been an offensive force for the big club. Hoffman has eight goals and 14 points over the 27 games he’s suited up for Ottawa, and is pulling down the fourth most ice time of all rookie forwards. With Ottawa trading Jason Spezza in the off-season, it was a necessity that the team replaces the long-time Senator’s scoring prowess by committee. Hoffman has been a big part of that.
8. Mirco Mueller, D, San Jose Sharks
Though he’s not the sexy choice for Calder, Mueller is an early favorite because he brings steady play and, when in the lineup, has been facing tough minutes and quietly succeeding. He has, however, been a healthy scratch of late on a San Jose team that is looking to right the ship.
He may only have one goal and three points, but he’s averaging 17-plus minutes of ice time as a 19-year-old. As he ages and bulks up, the Sharks 2013 first-round pick has serious potential.
7. Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues
Allen, drafted 34th overall by the Blues in 2008, came into the year knowing that he would have to learn the ropes while sitting behind Brian Elliott. Unfortunately for Allen, when Elliott went down with an injury, the Blues went out and signed the legendary Martin Brodeur, and he has since had to split time with the former New Jersey Devil.
However, in Elliott’s absence and lost in the talk surrounding Brodeur’s return to the net, Allen is having a tremendous season as a rookie goaltender. He’s started 14 games, posted a 2.50 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage, and has already racked up two shutouts.
6. Tanner Pearson, LW, Los Angeles Kings
When it comes to early season favorites, was there any player more hyped for the Calder than Pearson?
The 22-year-old, 2012 first-rounder shot out of the gates with seven goals in his first eight games this season and was the talk of the NHL. Already with a Stanley Cup to his name, Pearson was well on his to adding some hardware to his trophy case. However, the inevitable happened and Pearson’s 50-goal pace has since slowed. He went on an 11-game goalless drought, and is now on pace for 29-goal, 37 point season.
5. Michael Hutchinson, G, Winnipeg Jets
Only three rookie goaltenders have played more than ten games, and of those, Hutchinson is far and away the best statistically. With a 6-2-2 record, he’s also got the second most wins of all netminders, behind only the Blues’ Allen. What puts Hutchinson so far up the list, however, is how his statistics are standing up against the rest of the league.
While sharing duty with Ondrej Pavelec, Hutchinson has backstopped the Jets well enough that some in the city have called for him to take the starting job. His 1.81 goals-against average is second in the NHL and his .937 save percentage isn’t just tops amongst rookies, it’s the best mark in the league.
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2008, Hutchinson signed with Winnipeg in 2013 and is looking like their goaltender of the future.
4. Damon Severson, D, New Jersey Devils
At only 20 years old and with just 32 games under his belt, Severson looks like he may be the only player capable of usurping Aaron Ekblad for the title of ‘Best Rookie Defenseman.’ Drafted by New Jersey in the second round of the 2012 draft, Severson is averaging more than 23 minutes of ice time per night.
He’s scored four times and has 12 points already, is on pace for 31 over the course of the season, and faces some of the toughest minutes on the Devils as a rookie blueliner. In any other year, Severson would probably find himself among the first or second choice for Calder.
3. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Hard to believe that at one point this season, Flames coach Bob Hartley actually sat Gaudreau out. In the 26 games since being scratched in mid-October, the kid they call ‘Johnny Hockey’ has gone on a tear, scoring six goals and 23 points over 26 games.
Calgary’s fourth-round pick in 2011, Gaudreau was a college star who took home the 2013-14 Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top college player, and followed it up by scoring his first career goal in his first career game – and only appearance – last season. Part of a ragtag bunch of Flames that have made some noise in the Western Conference, Gaudreau stands more than an outside chance of taking home Calder honors if he keeps his 16 goal, 60 point pace going.
2. Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers
Ekblad isn’t just having a good season – he’s having one for the ages. Drafted first overall by the Panthers in 2014, Ekblad came to the Sunshine State with high hopes and he has more than delivered. Paired alongside Brian Campbell, he’s playing so well that he’s on pace to do something not even Bobby Orr did – score 50-plus points as an 18-year-old blueliner.
If Ekblad succeeds at surpassing the 50-point plateau, it’s going to be hard not to hand him the Calder right then and there. In fact, he’ll only be 13 points back of Phil Housley’s record 66-point season as an 18-year-old if he keeps his current pace.
Florida was a team that needed some star power, and Ekblad has more than delivered.
1. Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators
Not that anyone is basking in it, but it can’t be said enough just how much it looks like the Washington Capitals are going to regret giving up on Forsberg. The Capitals drafted Forsberg in the first round of the 2012 draft, but traded him to Nashville in exchange for Martin Erat who is no longer even on the team.
Through 29 games this season, the 20-year-old Forsberg has already scored 12 times and added 17 assists, good for an 82-point pace. At a point per game pace, he’s far and away at the top of the pack when it comes to rookie scoring, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. He’s had four multiple assist games this season, is averaging more than 17 minutes a night, and has scored the game-winner for the Predators four times. Forsberg isn’t just the best rookie in the league to this point in the season, he’s been one of the best players.
Barring an injury or a significant upswing for other rookies, Forsberg is going to take home the hardware at the end of the season. There’s almost no doubt about it at this point. If he can score at least 76 points, he’ll be the highest scoring Calder winner since Evgeni Malkin tallied 33 goals and 85 points in 2007-07.